Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)
for Individuals

Did you ever think that the missing piece to learning...

Conflict Resolution, Anger Management, Effective Communication
and Self-confidence just may be...A Horse!

Equine Assisted Therapy is now practiced in most countries in the world and has seen a 233% growth rate since 2006. Research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased beta-endorphin levels, decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-efficacy.

photo courtesy of Teaming for SuccessEquine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates horses experientially for emotional growth and healing. It is a collaborative effort between a licensed mental health professional, an equine specialist, and the horses working with the clients to address treatment goals. Because of its intensity and effectiveness, EAP is considered a short-term or a "brief" approach. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is experiential in nature. This means that participants learn about themselves and others by engaging in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) metaphors, feelings, behaviors and patterns within their own context.

Not all programs or individuals who utilize horses practice Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. For one, licensed clinical professionals need to be involved for it to be considered "psychotherapy". The focus of EAP is not riding or horsemanship. The focus of EAP involves setting up ground activities/exercises involving the horses which will require the client or group to explore and apply certain skills. This work offers a new slant to old emotional issues and mental health disorders. Several examples of the tools used and developed by EAP are:

  • Enhanced understanding and use of non-verbal communication and metaphors
  • Challenges clients in a non-threatening manner
  • Establishing healthy assertiveness by rapidly breaking down defense barriers
  • Creative thinking and problem solving
  • Provides immediate cause and effect situations
  • Establishing self-leadership
  • Developing positive work ethics
  • Taking responsibility and accountability for oneself
  • Enhancing teamwork and relationship skills
  • Building confidence and positive attitude
  • Promotes change from dysfunctional patterns to successful ones

At Spring Reins of Hope we feel that the therapeutic value of horses as co-therapist is vital. Horses become the "third eye" and provide yet an additional layer of information and guidance in our work with humans. Oftentimes, the facilitators (treatment team) does little aside from noticing and observing patterns that present themselves in the interactions between the client and the horses. It is the horse that becomes the primary guide for healing. The horses consistently mirror what is occurring for the client, thereby enhancing the treatment team's ability to notice patterns of behavior or emotional responses. It is often the case that issues will surface to the forefront rather quickly in an EAP session, which might have taken months or years to reveal in a traditional psychotherapeutic environment. In working with the horses, there is a therapeutic "urgency" that arises and an open, safe environment to resolve old habits, hurts and hang-ups.

photo courtesy of Equine West Services

Horses do make that extra difference. In fact, we consider them to be a bit of a "secret weapon" in helping us identify core issues that might go unnoticed in traditional therapeutic modality which is largely focused on what is spoken (talk therapy). Horses respond to subtleties in your body language, and it is the focus on the non-verbals that can be particularly revealing. For example, clients may verbalize a desire or feeling and yet their body language may communicate something entirely different. In the Western culture, the emphasis is placed mostly on what is said. However what is even more revealing is the added layer of body language and discovering the discrepancies between what we say with our mouth and what is said through our body.

Animal Assisted Therapy has been endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA) (Division 17) as a viable psychotherapy modality. Research has shown that this to be effective in a wide range of mental health issues, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD, ADHD, OCD, RAD, etc)
  • Addictive behavior
  • Adjustment to acute/chronic illness
  • Bereavement and grief
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Combat stress
  • Communication difficulties / breakdown
  • Conduct issues
  • Depression
  • Domestic violence
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional and behavioral imbalances
  • Relationship problems
  • Sexual and physical abuse
  • Trauma

photo courtesy of Teaming for SuccessTreatment options offered at Spring Reins of Hope can often be relatively short-term but is extended if in the best interest of the client. Generally treatment plans range from four to eight weeks. EAP treatment can stand alone or as an adjunct to ongoing mental health treatment in collaboration with another primary therapist. All EAP sessions require a pre-screening evaluation without the horses, which is scheduled by appointment. This evaluation allows us to discuss the client's needs and treatment goals before entering the arena.

photo courtesy of Pal-O-Mine
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy takes one through a series of activities that explore and modify the client's reactions to trigger emotional responses such as anxiety, fear, guilt or anger. Instead of falling into the default flight of fight mode at the slightest sign of uncertainty, the client learns to recognize authentic feelings and use them as information and insight to build self assurance and stronger support. This process works by creating alternative response patterns to old triggers by establishing new scenarios with the horses (who act as a grounding line). Exercises are designed to keep the clients arousal at a manageable level, while also allowing room for them to explore both the root and periphery of the issue.
~ Linda Kohanov, The Epona Center
Bestselling author, Tao of Equus

Resources on Equine Assisted Psychotherapy